Bulls

Running with the Bulls: Offseason won't be idle

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Running with the Bulls: Offseason won't be idle

Monday, May 10, 2010
4:04 PM

By Aggrey Sam
CSNChicago.com

With the search for a new head coach just getting fired up, the upcoming NBA Draft in June and the official beginning to free agency on July 1st, this offseason won't be an idle one for the Bulls.

Despite being ousted from the postseason by the Cleveland Cavaliers in the first round of the Eastern Conference playoffs earlier this month, Chicago is one of the most heavily-discussed teams in the league right now. No wonder--with a coveted coaching vacancy, plenty of cap room to welcome at least one marquee player to the Windy City and a young, talented returning core, the Bulls are being watched very closely by observers and their competitors alike.

Although the Bulls have a strong group returning, an oft-overlooked fact is that only six players--center Joakim Noah, veteran guard Kirk Hinrich, young forwards Taj Gibson and James Johnson, small forward Luol Deng and All-Star point guard Derrick Rose--are under contract for next season. Chicago will surely build the rest of its roster through free agency, but they will also look to land a solid rookie contributor via the NBA Draft.

By virtue of their midseason John Salmons trade, the Bulls will select 17th in the first round (if Milwaukee, as expected, opts to swap picks with Chicago as a condition of the deal), which may not be high enough to grab an elite prospect, but can certainly net them an impact player, as evidenced by the selection of the aforementioned Gibson, a first team NBA All-Rookie choice, last year. Depending on their workouts leading up to the draft and the results of measureables such as height, weight, wingspan, speed, strength and leaping ability at the NBA Pre-Draft Combine--held in Chicago from May 19-23--certain players that might fit Chicago's needs, but are currently expected to be at least borderline lottery picks, may slip and become available to the team.

Since outside shooting on this season's team was such a major issue highly-acclaimed perimeter snipers like freshman wing Xavier Henry of Kansas and Oklahoma State's James Anderson, a polished scorer, may be intriguing to the organization, with Final Four hero Gordon Hayward and less-ballyhooed prospects Paul George of Fresno State and Nevada's Luke Babbitt also potentially fitting the bill. If the Bulls were to opt for the best available, high-risk, high-reward approach, fast-rising center Hassan Whiteside of Marshall--a talented, but raw offensive player and a force defensively and on the glass--could be an option, if he were to slip leading up to draft day, while versatile big man Ekpe Udoh of Baylor could provide an added dimension in the frontcourt as a reserve. Texas combo guard Avery Bradley, despite being somewhat of a tweener on the pro level, also is a capable outside shooter and possesses a strong defensive mindset, while teammate Damion James brings experience, versatility and toughness to the table. Yet another direction Chicago could choose is finding a reliable backup for Rose; sources tell CSNChicago.com that Kentucky's Eric Bledsoe--a natural point guard forced to play off the ball because of the presence of freshman teammate John Wall, regarded as the consensus top pick in the draft--came in for an unannounced workout (which went well, according to the source) at the Berto Center over the weekend. Others who may be considered by the franchise include Memphis guard Elliot Williams, South Florida scorer Dominique Jones, Nevada point guard Armon Johnson, Washington forward Quincy Pondexter, fiery Maryland guard Greivis Vasquez and Latavious Williams of high school-to-D-League fame.

Still, even with the deadline for college underclassmen to decide if they would stay in the draft rather than return to school occurring over the weekend, it's far too early for anybody--let alone the organizations making the decisions--to know exactly who they want, who will potentially be available or even the order of the NBA's draft lottery, which will take place later this month. Currently, the Bulls don't own a second-round pick in the draft--as a result of the trade that acquired the rights to Turkish center Omer Asik, a highly-touted big man whose expected presence on the team next season may pave the way for veteran free agent Brad Miller's departure--but draft choices are bought and sold like candy by teams on draft day, so it's not out of the question that Chicago could end up acquiring late picks to add inexpensive depth.

A more immediate means of adding help obviously comes in the form of free agency, something anticipated as a major part of a summer that could propel the franchise back into the upper echelon of NBA teams. The top available player is also the league's best--LeBron James--and while some observers continue to insist that he may leave his home state Cavaliers, it seems increasingly unlikely that the now two-time MVP will depart Cleveland, regardless of the outcome of this season. The consensus second-best free agent is Heat guard Dwyane Wade, a Chicago native. As exciting as a backcourt of hometown products Rose and Wade sounds, Wade has made it clear that although he's immensely disappointed with Miami's performance over the last few years, he would like to remain in South Florida. The onus is on top Heat executive Pat Riley--whose recent statements regarding his willingness to return to the sidelines, if necessary, show his commitment to retaining the superstar--to surround Wade with a much-improved supporting cast, something Miami is capable of doing. Another top free agent, Phoenix's Amar'e Stoudemire, also seems increasingly likely to stay put, as the resurgent Suns (who became the first team to advance to the conference finals by sweeping San Antonio) are again on the upswing after a hiatus from the postseason, due to improved chemistry and a renewed focus on the defensive end under Alvin Gentry's guidance. Plus, it doesn't look like Steve Nash is slowing down anytime soon.

While he's a distant third behind James and Wade, Toronto's Chris Bosh (like Stoudemire, a power forward, a position regarded as in need of an upgrade by the Bulls, despite Gibson's stellar rookie campaign) is also a highly-coveted addition, and with his recent Twitter posts referring to his free-agent status, it seems as if he would be unlikely to return to the Great White North. Top Raptors executive Bryan Colangelo, in a practical move, acknowledged Bosh's options and indicated his willingness to help assist with a sign-and-trade scenario (Colangelo also discussed the Toronto's desire to keep Bosh in Canada), which would provide Bosh with the contract he wants, while ensuring the Raptors don't lose their star without receiving something in exchange.

Atlanta's Joe Johnson, perhaps the top perimeter option behind James and Wade, spoke of his desire to remain with the high-flying Hawks toward the end of the regular season. However, after barely surviving an undermanned Bucks squad in the first round and now in the process of being thoroughly humiliated by Orlando--Johnson made some less than favorable remarks about the home crowd booing the team in Atlanta after their embarrassing Game 3 home loss on Saturday--the talented swingman again sounds like a man ready to pack his bags. Johnson hasn't played particularly well in the postseason, but with the Hawks' offense reliant on him creating for himself in isolation situations, imagining him spotting up on the wing or receiving passes from a playmaking floor general like Rose is a much more palatable thought.

Other teams in the league--the Clippers, Knicks, Heat and Nets are a few with the cap room to also sign a top-tier free agent--have money to spend, but an advantage in Chicago's favor is having assets to work out a sign-and-trade deal for the likes of Bosh, Johnson or even Utah power forward Carlos Boozer, another free agent possibility. While the organization is excited about their returning nucleus, it's no secret that players like Hinrich, Deng and even Gibson (who the team would be loathe to part with) could help them acquire a player of even more magnitude.

First, however, the Bulls need a coach. Add former Toronto head coach and ex-NBA coach of the year Sam Mitchell to the seemingly ever-growing list of candidates, with Dallas assistant Dwane Casey, former New Jersey head coach Lawrence Frank, Oklahoma City assistant Maurice Cheeks and former Minnesota head coach Kevin McHale already having been vetted by the organization, according to reports. And while the University of Kentucky's John Calipari continues to be linked to the Chicago job, don't expect that option to gain more traction as time wears on, regardless of any tenuous connections to free agents like James. All in all, as the Bulls continues their methodical pace in the search for a new sideline leader, desirable candidates could start to dwindle as other teams--the Clippers, Hornets, Nets and 76ers also currently have head-coaching vacancies, as well as head starts on Chicago--threaten to make the dominoes fall with new hires. Yet another factor that could impact the process is the fact that at least a handful of assistant coaches for teams still in the playoffs--Boston's Tom Thibodeau, Utah's Tyrone Corbin, Phoenix's Dan Majerle and Brian Shaw of the Lakers--are candidates for head jobs, while rumors persist that Atlanta's Mike Woodson may not have his contract renewed in the aftermath of the Hawks' postseason showing, potentially further complicating matters.

Speaking of the playoffs, a relatively exciting first round, filled with young players staking claim to prime-time performer status, has given way to a ho-hum second round, with the aforementioned Suns' sweep of the Spurs and two other possible perfect outings from the Lakers and Magic. The Cleveland-Boston series is the only series still up in the air, but if the Cavs win, it will result in the top two teams from each conference vying for an opportunity to play in the Finals, with a Lakers-Magic repeat looking more and more possible. No matter what anyone says, it looks like the regular season really does matter.

Aggrey Sam is CSNChicago.coms Bulls Insider. Follow him @CSNBullsInsider on Twitter for up-to-the-minute Bulls information and his take on the team, the NBA and much more.

NBA Playoffs' youth movement makes clock on long rebuilds tick quicker than ever

NBA Playoffs' youth movement makes clock on long rebuilds tick quicker than ever

New blood has injected life into the opening week of the NBA Playoffs as youthful newcomers have found the bright lights just to their fitting.

For those on the outside looking in, half-decade rebuilding plans appear tougher to sell to fan bases and ownership groups watching players on rookie scale deals outperform their contracts.

Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown weren’t expected to lead the Boston Celtics this season, but they’ve been thrust into leading roles after Gordon Hayward’s season-ending injury on Opening Night and Kyrie Irving’s knee troubles shut him down weeks before the postseason.

But they’ve shown there’s no need to be treated with kid gloves, that redshirting is for the minor leagues. Tatum hasn’t gotten the extra publicity of Utah’s Donovan Mitchell and Philadelphia’s Ben Simmons, but he’s not to be forgotten about in the playoff equation.

Brown had the benefit of being a rookie for the Celtics last season, and was more bystander than active participant.

But he’s still 21 years old, months younger than Mitchell and Simmons.

The two frontrunners for Rookie of the Year are certainly franchise players, and although they have major help on their respective rosters by way of veterans or fellow phenoms, one could argue the Utah Jazz and Philadelphia 76ers would have made the playoffs regardless.

The playoffs used to be a place reserved for the veterans, a higher plane of air that young lungs weren’t yet prepared for.

But Simmons is posting numbers that have statisticians scrambling for box scores from the tape-delay era for reference, while Mitchell is showing the teams who passed him up they should check their scouting and decision making.

And even though we could be in store for more of the same in the Finals if LeBron James’ Cavs meet Stephen Curry’s Warriors in June, the road to get there will be filled with so many new faces sure to be more than potholes in the years to come.

Recent NBA history can’t be written without the San Antonio Spurs, Miami Heat and Oklahoma City Thunder having significant ink. But each is on the verge of going fishing, trailing 3-1 after four games.

Instead, the 76ers are now darlings, the Celtics are chugging along without main cogs and the Jazz aren’t far away from catching the attention of casual fans to become must-see TV.

There’s a shift going on in the NBA, with slow-moving franchises hoping for a traditional clock on a rebuild taking the risk of being passed by those more determined, more opportunistic and unbothered by job security in the pursuit of winning now.

If you have something close to a unicorn, your house better be in order. Of the rising stars who have a level of establishment in the league’s hierarchy, only Kristaps Porzingis’ New York Knicks and Devin Booker’s Phoenix Suns are sitting on the outside of the playoff party. Porzingis is recovering from an ACL injury suffered midseason, otherwise the Knicks would have likely been in contention for a playoff spot.

The Suns, well, they’re a mess.

And it’s no coincidence both franchises are on the hunt for new coaches.

The talent pool in the NBA is so vast, its players seemingly so prepared for the transition to the professional game that the clock on franchises to wait on its players ticks louder than it ever has.

Factoring in booming salaries with young players poised to cash in on restricted free agency, franchises need answers on its young players—and they need them in the form of impact, in the form of wins.

Short of the Philadelphia 76ers’ sham and scam of the league’s rules by tanking for half a decade, it’s tough to envision a team duplicating the strategy with lottery reform on the horizon.

If done right, turnarounds can happen quicker than saving yourself a seat at the draft lottery four or five years in a row.

A correct mix of scouting, coach selection and veteran influence can put teams back in the playoff hunt quicker than before—as opposed to having similarly talented players making big money without having proven much.

For some fan bases, it represents hope.

For some front offices, you wonder if a shudder of fear is seeping into their buildings, knowing their clock is ticking.

NBA Buzz: Should the Bulls pursue Paul George in free agency?

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USA TODAY

NBA Buzz: Should the Bulls pursue Paul George in free agency?

Anyone who watched the Oklahoma City Thunder implode in Game 4 of their first-round series against Utah Monday night probably had the same thought run through their mind. “Paul George is so out of there.”

Speculation about George signing a max free agent deal with his hometown Lakers has been running wild since the All-Star forward forced a trade out of Indiana last summer. And, who can forget the scene of George’s parents sitting in the front row at Staples Center cheering on their son as he played a strong game against the Lakers earlier this season?

But if we’ve learned anything through the years watching top level free agents make decisions on their future, it’s that it’s almost impossible to predict what factors will turn out to be most important.

Take the George free agency for example. Sure, he’s talked openly about his desire to play in southern California and his love of the Lakers and Kobe Bryant through the years. But what if LeBron James decides to take his talents to L.A. this summer? Will George be happy playing secnd fiddle to “the king” in his own hometown (if the Lakers can create cap space for a second max contract), or will he look for a better option to showcase his game and his brand?

That’s where the Bulls could come in.

John Paxson said in his season ending news conference it’s unlikely the Bulls would be major players in free agency this year, but he also said he never wanted to go through another season like the one his team had just endured, and that the front office will always be on the lookout for opportunities to add a star player to the mix.

With Zach LaVine’s cap hold and the salary slots included for the sixtth and 22nd picks in this year’s draft, the Bulls would have around $73 million in salary commitments for next season, leaving them just enough space to fit in the first season of a max contract offer for George. And even if they wind up just a little bit shy of a max slot, they could easily create more space by trading one of their back-up point guards or another reserve player.

Would George be receptive to a Bulls offer? Hard to say. The Lakers are obviously his first option and he might also consider the Clippers and 76ers. Doc Rivers would have to do some salary cap gymnastics to make a run at George, but Philadelphia will be in position to sign a major free agent outright, and the thought of George joining forces with Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons would be scary for the other Eastern Conference contenders.

After years of toiling in Indianapolis, it’s hard to imagine George being interested in joining a rebuild in Chicago, but as I mentioned earlier, stranger things have happened in free agency.

The assumption in league circles is the Bulls will wait until 2019 to make their big move when players like Klay Thompson, Kawhi Leonard and Kyrie Irving could be on the market, and might consider signing with the Bulls after watching another year of development from LaVine, Lauri Markkanen and Kris Dunn.

But Paxson couldn’t have been more transparent in describing the mental pain he endured watching his team play for the best possible draft position during a 27-55 season, so he’s not going to pass up on a chance to add a franchise player if one suddenly becomes available this summer.

Paul George signing with the Bulls is an extreme long shot, but it’s not totally impossible.

AROUND THE ASSOCIATION

The biggest surprise in round one of the playoffs has to be the Pelicans’ 4-0 sweep of Portland. After losing DeMarcus Cousins to a season-ending injury, not many people expected New Orleans to even make the playoffs, much less win a series.

But Pelicans coach Alvin Gentry designed a new offensive system, utilizing a three-guard offense of Jrue Holiday and former Bulls Rajon Rondo and E’Twaun Moore to get the ball to superstar big man Anthony Davis, with another ex-Bull, Niko Mirotic providing floor spacing as a third scoring option.

Add to that the almost annual transformation of Rondo into an elite playoff performer, and all of a sudden the Pelicans are dangerous. Granted, they’ll probably come up short in the next round against Golden State, but casual basketball fans are finally getting a chance to see just how good Davis is playing on a national stage. He’s a top 5 talent, who has consistently pledged his loyalty to the organization that originally drafted him.

Assuming the Pelicans re-sign Cousins this summer, it will be interesting to find out what the ceiling might be for this team that seemed to be treading water just a few short months ago.

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On the other side of that series, losing four straight playoff games could signal major changes ahead for Portland. The backcourt duo of Damian Lillard and C.J. McCollum is one of the league’s best, but the Blazers are capped out and have to make a decision on signing restricted free agent center Jusuf Nurkic.

Portland was one of the biggest offenders in the Wild West free agent chase in 2016 after the new tv contracts ushered in a $20 million spike in the salary cap. The Blazers signed Evan Turner, Allen Crabbe and Myers Leonard to ridiculously inflated contracts and then overpaid free agent forward Mo Harkless the following summer.

General Manager Neil Olshey was able to unload Crabbe’s contract in a deal with Brooklyn, but the Blazers are already over next year’s projected salary cap with the contracts already on the books, making it extremely difficult to improve the team’s frontcourt.

So, would Portland consider trading McCollum or Lillard for a package of young players and picks? Lillard just had his best season and is a fixture in Portland, so it’s unlikely he would be moved. But if Olshey decides the current roster has maxed out, he might explore trading McCollum to bring in the reinforcements the Blazers need to contend in the brutally tough West.

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Similarly, what’s next for Tom Thibodeau and the “Timber-Bulls” after they get eliminated by top seeded Houston in round one?

It’s been fun watching Derrick Rose re-kindle memories of his MVP past with his end to end attacks and twisting finishes at the rim. Rose has averaged around 15 points off the bench in the series, probably earning an invitation back to be a rotation player for Minnesota next season.

But what about the uneasy alliance between Jimmy Butler and the TWolves young stars Karl-Anthony Towns and Andrew Wiggins? Butler has one guaranteed season left on his contract, but in an interview with the Sun-Times' Joe Cowley, Butler admitted it’s been tough watching players who don’t share his passion for winning and constantly working to improve their games. Don’t be surprised if Jimmy isn’t already planning his exit strategy with an eye towards Los Angeles.

Butler also said in the Cowley article he has a lot of love for the Reinsdorf family and wouldn’t rule out finishing his career in a Bulls uniform. Now that sounds like an even bigger long shot than my Paul George idea, but after all this is the NBA!

Just visualize Kevin Garnett screaming in his on court interview after the Celtics won the NBA title in 2008. “Anything’s possible!”